Polar bear habitat update end of April 2016: Plenty of sea ice for feeding

So, here we are near the end of the first month of the Arctic spring and there is still more ice than usual off Labrador and conditions in the Barents Sea are improving daily. The fear-mongers can blather all they like about the potential risks of bears swimming in summer – but spring is the critical season as far as sea ice is concerned for polar bears and all polar bear biologists know it. Polar bears consume 2/3 of all the food they need for the year during April-June and so far, ice conditions are looking just fine.

Cambridge Bay_we re OK_from Joe Prins

There is enough ice where there needs to be ice for polar bears to gorge themselves on new-born ringed and bearded seals – and that’s really all that matters. More ice off Labrador means more hunting ground for the Davis Strait polar bears that depend on the tens of thousands of young harp seals born this year off the Front.

Harp seal pup_DFO Newfoundland


Map below shows sea ice off Labrador, departure from normal (blue is more, red is less), Canadian Ice Service:

East Coast ice departure from normal week April 25 2016 CIS

Barents Sea ice is not in great shape but the ice around Svalbard is still better than it was in 2012 at this time of year (see maps below, from the Norwegian Ice Service) – and we know that polar bears not only survived those 2012 conditions but that the population grew 42% in spite of them (probably because virtually all females shifted to Franz Josef Land – where the ice is less variable – to have their cubs when Svalbard area ice was poor).

Barents Sea ice extent 2016 April 27_NIS

Svalbard area sea ice at 27 April 2012, for comparison to this year (which follows):

Svalbard ice extent 2012 April 27_NIS


Svalbard ice archived 2016 April 27_NIS

Ice chart for Svalbard at 27 April 2016 (below) compared to the average (with ONE standard deviation – most ice charts use two) – note that ice levels are far above the minimum experienced from 1981-2010.

Svalbard icechart_season_2016 April 27

The bit of open water beginning to develop in the Southern Beaufort is normal and good news for polar bears – bearded seals are attracted to the edges of this open water, which means that’s where the bears can hunt them. When the ice is so thick in spring that this open water is NOT available is when hunting gets tough for polar bears.Sea ice Canada 2016 April 28_CIS


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